DARK WEB: STEVEN HICKEY’S ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CREEPYPASTA
PART 34: CHANNEL ZERO – AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH NICK ANTOSCA
In my last Dark Web feature I wrote about how Creepypasta is fast becoming a recognised sub-genre that, rather than cater to a fervent and enthusiastic minority, is starting to branch out into the mainstream. Since the runaway success of The Walking Dead blew open the doors for horror genre television, television producers have sought a ready supply of recognisable brands of dark fiction. Comics such as Outcast and Preacher have yielded results, but there is no denying that web publishing is a veritable goldmine for horror stories.
One of the first shows to recognise this fact is the superb Channel Zero. Having just wrapped up its first critically acclaimed season on Syfy, with a second confirmed for late 2017, the show is the brainchild of gifted author and screenwriter, Nick Antosca. In 2015 the station announced that it had greenlit two six episode seasons, both of which were to be based on popular creepypastas. The first would focus on Kris Straub’s excellent Candle Cove, a story I covered here back in February.
The second would cover Brian Russell’s equally popular NoEnd House. ‘We love the idea of doing seasons of TV like rich, character-driven horror novels, and for Channel Zero: Candle Cove we’ve expanded this great short story Candle Cove into something really nightmarish and haunting and surreal,’ Antosca and fellow executive producer Max Landis said in a joint statement. ‘We can’t wait to dig in deeper and bring this to life with Syfy and Universal Cable Productions.’
Casting notices followed, an on 20 June this year a Variety exclusive article announced that Paul Schneider and Fiona Shaw would star in the first season. This was followed by the reveal that Craig William Macneill (director of The Boy) would be behind the camera for all six episodes of the season. This was quite the coup for the show and interest intensified massively.
As the hype machine gathered more momentum, we finally started to learn more about the show’s storyline. It was revealed that Schneider would play Mike Painter, a child psychologist who returns to his childhood hometown of Iron Hill to investigate the mysterious disappearance of several children back in the 1980s, including his twin brother, Eddie (with child actor Luca Villacis portraying both of the young Painter boys). He has reason to believe that these unsolved crimes could be related to a mysterious and creepy children’s television show, the titular Candle Cove, but his return to the town kickstarts a new and terrifying chain of events. Aided by his reluctant mother, Marla (Shaw) and childhood sweetheart Jessica (Natalie Brown), Mike must solve the mystery before a new generation of children succumb to the evil that devastated his life 30 years ago.
Of course, using a well-known short story for inspiration is one thing — using it well is quite another. What works in literature does not always translate as well to the screen, while stretching a few hundred words to fill six hours of screen time is obviously a huge challenge. Luckily, it was one in which Macneill, Antosca, Landis and their crew were more than up to the task.
What he did was use the Candle Cove story as a jumping on point for a massively expanded tale which took in a large cast of characters and an even richer mythology. Yes, Kris Straub’s fictional nightmarish children’s show is present and depicted very faithfully indeed, but some of the show’s most chilling creations (such as the deeply disturbing Tooth Child) are brand new, original creations for Antosca’s story. The show gives Candle Cove’s fans everything they want, but it also gives the viewer new, compelling characters and situations optimised for visual storytelling.
Finally the show debuted on 11 October and, over the following five weeks it told a deeply compelling and legitimately unsettling story that won plenty of fans. Proving a resounding success with critics (the show boasts a solid 75/100 rating at Metacritic — http://www.metacritic.com/tv/channel-zero — and a whopping 92% at Rotten Tomatoes — https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/channel_zero/s01/ ) and with much buzz already surrounding a second season which is still nearly a full year away, Channel Zero proves what Creepypasta fans have known for years — the next wave of classic horror fiction is already here, just waiting to be discovered in the darkest recesses of the internet.
Of course, the show would never have proven such a triumph in the hands of a less talented show-runner, and it is for precisely this reason that we all owe Nick Antosca a debt of gratitude.
So what is next for Nick and his groundbreaking creation? Well, I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with him about Channel Zero and it gives me tremendous pleasure to present our interview below.
UK HORROR SCENE: Hi Nick, and thank you so much for agreeing to speak to UK Horror Scene about Channel Zero. First, why creepypasta? Translating bite-sized literature into serialised visual media isn’t the most obvious of steps, so what inspired you to do so?
NICK ANTOSCA: Great ideas can come from anywhere. Candle Cove was such an exciting story to adapt, and I just thought why not do more? I love that the best of these stories are a strong, terrifying concept that you can build on. They leave room for creativity.
UKHS: Why do you think Creepypasta has resonated so well with the fandom?
NA: There’s something about the “true story” quality of the best ones. Great creepypasta stories tend to capture a feeling of familiarity. You feel like they’re describing something that happened to a friend of yours one time.
UKHS: How did it feel to see the tremendous reception that Channel Zero received from critics and viewers alike? Why do you think it was so well-received by audiences?
NA: You don’t necessarily get a lot of chances to make a TV show, so I feel like if you get to do it, make sure it’s something you’d want to do watch and that you’ll be proud of later. Craig and I were really just trying to make the kind of horror we wanted to watch. So it was really gratifying that viewers and critics seemed to respond to it.
UKHS: The choices of creepypasta of the first two seasons of the show suggest that the Channel Zero team are fans of the genre. It would have been easy to adapt more well-known and ‘trendy’ stories such as Slenderman, Jeff the Killer or the Rake, but instead with Candle Cove and NoEnd House, you’ve picked stories with serious fan cred. Are you guys pasta fans? If so, what are some of your favourites?
NA: Of course we’re fans! Some other favorites (and this does not mean we’ll necessarily adapt any of these if we get another season, just that I personally like these stories) are Goatman, Search and Rescue Woods (aka “the staircase one”), Abandoned by Disney, Ted the Caver, and Psychosis.
UKHS: Why did you pick Candle Cove? And why NoEnd House?
NA: Those two stories are perfect examples of the kind of story we want to adapt — distinctive, iconic concepts that we can build worlds around. A mysterious kids’ TV show. A sinister horror house. Plus a great sense of atmosphere and dread.
UKHS: What challenges came with adapting such well-loved stories?
NA: It was important to preserve the sense of eerie dread that’s baked into the stories. We wanted to build worlds and mythologies out of these very short stories, but we had to make sure the spirit of the originals didn’t get lost. It’s easy to do jump scares but it’s harder to create six hours of slow-building nightmare.
UKHS: One of the first season’s biggest strengths was the manner in which you faithfully adapted a relatively small-scale story but built on this mythos to tell a bigger, yet more personal story. Is this the route you plan to go with subsequent seasons, taking a strong core premise and giving it your own unique spin?
NA: Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. That’s pretty much exactly what I hope to do. Each season will have a different visual style and cinematic voice, though.
UKHS: I was fortunate enough to interview Kris Straub earlier this year and he was very excited about your vision for Candle Cove. What was it like working with him? And how were things with NoEnd House’s Brian Russell?
NA: I love Kris’s story and I’m really glad he’s into the show. I sent him the pilot script to approve before we got greenlit and we kept in touch throughout, but the actual writing process was pretty separate. Brian is actually working on The Exorcist on Fox right now, so we had lunch early in the NEH process and he’s read the first couple scripts. Both writers are awesome and I’m grateful to them for letting us create elaborate fanfiction based on their stories.
UKHS: Channel Zero has assembled a tremendous cast for both seasons. How important was it to find the right actors rather than ‘flavour of the month’ names? Can we expect to see you work with any of the season one cast again?
NA: I can’t overstate the importance. Cast distinguishes something like this. One of the advantages of being kind of an under-the-radar, low profile show when we were in production is that we were able to go after actors based purely on talent, rather than the casting department’s idea of a “get” or someone with a big social media following.
UKHS: While I understand that from a contract standpoint it’s very difficult to discuss future plans for Channel Zero, do you feel at liberty to tell us any more about plans you might have for the show? Are there any stories you’d be keen to cover in future seasons?
NA: I know what story I want to do if we get a third season. I can’t say what it is yet, though.
UKHS: And finally, something a little more fun here, I’ve seen some wonderful examples of fan art on the web (including some awesome Toothchild images). Are there any pieces of art that have impressed you or the Channel Zero cast and crew?
NA: Fan art? Yeah, I’m impressed whenever anyone creates Channel Zero fan art, for sure. I like everything I’ve seen!
If you want to find out more about Nick, Channel Zero and his other upcoming projects, be sure to follow him over at twitter: @NickAntosca
With touted movie adaptations of multiple Creepypasta properties, plus the second season of Channel Zero and Machinima’s proposed series of short films, Clive Barker’s Creepy Pasta on the way, now, more than ever, is an exciting fan to be a creepypasta fan.
Come back next time when I’ll sit down to talk to another of the genre’s most prestigious, recognised and lauded authors over his substantial body of work within the community.